Matthew Ryan says he doesn't want his audience to be defined by a haircut. The Nashville songwriter just wants to appeal to unfashionably average listeners. For his 11th album in as many years, Ryan, 36, reached beyond alternative country to make an atmospheric rock record. Too bad for him, but Matthew Ryan vs The Silver State is getting rave reviews from musical sophisticates. I talked to Ryan by phone last weekend about his blue-collar roots.
The music press is calling Matthew Ryan vs The Silver State a breakthrough album for you. Do you see it that way?
I don't know if it's a breakthrough. I don't really read the press about me because I don't know if any of it is true. I'm more concerned with how regular people connect with this music, not just audiophiles and intellectual elites. I guess the way I've always approached what I'm doing is that I keep stating my case whether the press notices or not.
Do you attribute your values to growing up in the blue-collar town of Chester, Pennsylvania?
Yes, I think we often don't recognize the significance of what we grew up around until much later in life. Chester had these neighborhoods that were Irish, Polish, Ukrainian, Italian and African American. They were all like small countries. But there was this incredible energy to them. They weren't like the bland strip-mall communities we joke about now.
You have a brother who's serving a 30-year prison term. I've read that as far back as 1991, you were trying to help him keep his life together. Has that relationship been a key influence on your music?
I think one of the reasons I was drawn to music is that it helps you become your own leading man. What I mean by that is music makes you feel stronger, like you can rise up and fight the evil things you see around you. Unfortunately, my brother decided to embrace the evil that was around him.
What is it about this album that's drawing more listeners?
One thing is our confidence. Being a musician is kind of like being a boxer. One way to box is to absorb punches. Another way is to deliver punches. We've finally reached the point where we've got some convictions and we're dishing out some punches.